DELHI, INDIA — The quietude that surrounds the Birla House belies the controlled madness that is Delhi. The manicured grounds where Mahatma Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his 79 years are a welcome respite from the aggressive knickknack hustlers and crippled beggars, and insane traffic jams punctuated by manic honking, madcap auto-rickshaw drivers, wandering cows, and mischievous monkeys.
Gandhi’s fateful path to the site where he was assassinated on January 30, 1948, is memorialized forever in raised concrete footsteps. Along the way are photographs of Gandhi’s transformation, from lawyer to India’s most famous activist — his eyes both gentle and resolved at every stage of his life.
Quotes from various luminaries mark the path, such as this one by poet Rabindranath Tagore:
“When they come bullying to us
with raised fist and menacing stick,
we smile to them, and say
your reddening stare
may startle babies out of sleep
but how frighten those who refuse to fear?”
As I think back about that poem and its poignant Gandhian message of passive but determined resistance, and as I remember standing in Gandhi’s tiny bedroom and looking over his few material possessions, my thoughts shift to the perilous future of these United States.
Earlier that morning in India, in an upstairs conference room at the Suryaa Hotel, professor Nilotpal Mrinal addressed our small tour group with a lecture titled “The Relevance of Gandhi in Today’s World.”
Mrinal suggested that Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolent resistance and interfaith harmony extends “beyond the boundaries of space and time. Gandhi is more relevant than ever. Gandhi could see what is happening today 100 years ago.”
What is happening in the United States is far removed from the teachings of Gandhi. As we try to heal from a violent insurrection that almost overturned a fair and legitimate election, and in the wake of a clown-car presidency that more resembled a Las Vegas comedy act than a smart and forward-thinking administration, our nation is more divided than ever.
So, in this locked and loaded country of bombast and rage, is there a place for mutual cooperation? Will we ever agree on a universal truth?
Refusing to Hate
Gandhi frustrated his opponents by refusing to hate them. He believed that wars begin in the minds of men and that violence is a weapon of the weak.
Above all, being truthful to yourself was at the heart of Gandhi’s beliefs. While a stranger in a strange land, studying law in England, he struggled against temptation but kept the two vows that he made to his mother when he left India: no meat and no alcohol.
Gandhi believed, as he wrote in his autobiography subtitled The Story of My Experiments with Truth, that “morality is the basis of things, and that truth is the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective.”
In this time of viral fictions spread by deceptive public relations’ campaigns, soulless bots, and a pandemic of misinformation, a shared truth is as elusive as ever.
Gandhi wrote, “Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech: he will measure every word.”
In most instances thinking before speaking (or tweeting) would solve many problems.
Peace, love, and accommodation are ideals as old as the hills. If those three precepts did not elicit allegiance from most of us, we would have blown this planet out of its orbit by now. We might still do that (our continued existence is hardly guaranteed), and saddled with a radical right-wing Republican rhetoric seemingly insensitive to compromise and immune to learning from the lessons of history, does not offer much confidence.
It Begins With Us
Still, the move toward a more peaceful, cooperative world is still within our grasp. It begins with us.
Professor Mrinal said Gandhi believed that when you transform the individual, you transform the world.
When America trots out its next doomed military incursion, and when we are then implored to hate an enemy in a nation that most of us cannot locate on a map, or an entire religion of which we know nothing, we can simply say, I refuse to hate.
When we are told to fear the Other, we can say, no, we will not give in to paranoia. We are courageous and we will not yield to the paralyzing instincts of nativism and prejudice.
When the next slick autocrat wannabe bellows that he, and only he, can keep us safe from the perils of this world, we can stand up and shout, no, that this is not true. No one man can keep us safe. But all of us working together might find a safe passage through troubled waters.
Gandhi’s life is proof that transformation is possible. One of his most powerful quotes at the Birla House hangs above his infamous spinning wheel. It says, “My life is my message.”
While there is still time to right this rudderless ship of a nation let it be our message, too.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.